There is a popular misconception that Christmas should be about “unadulterated joy” and happiness but the Christmas story “has never been about 100 per cent good times,” said Fr Martin Sirju, in his homily for the Feast of Holy Innocents at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, December 28.
The feast remembers the martyrs, the male children killed in Bethlehem by the order of King Herod.
Fr Sirju said, “Even though we are in a special time that we call the holy octave of Christmas and it is a time to rejoice and to give thanks and to wish people a merry Christmas, in the middle of the rejoicing we have the murder of these children two years old and under”. Jesus was “lucky” because Joseph was warned in a dream.
Fr Sirju highlighted the issues facing children, citing a pamphlet from the TT Police Service Child Protection Unit and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He asked the children in the congregation to name some of the “rights”. A few responded.
A boy named Raphael was invited to the front of the altar and Fr Sirju described different situations asking him to say if a “good touch” or “bad touch” happened.
He said many children Raphael’s age are victims of “bad touch”. “The gospel tells us that Jesus did two things: it tells us He put His arms around children and that He blessed them and that is what we are supposed to do for children.” The Feast of Holy Innocents reminds of Jesus’ special love for children, His recognition of their vulnerability and the duty of adults to protect them. Fr Sirju added, “We keep God’s name holy; we keep His commands, and we continue to do what Jesus did and that is to love and protect the children just as Joseph and Mary loved and protected Him”.
After the homily, the children in attendance, and babies with their parents were blessed with holy oil.
In an interview with media Fr Sirju explained again why he stopped blessing toys.
“It has nothing to do with the feast day really,” he said. Fr Sirju said he was curious to find out how the tradition started and enquired about the practice in other dioceses in the region and even asked the two Nigerian priests based at the Cathedral about this happening in their homeland. Toys were not blessed in these places.
There was also a “practical” reason— “the Mass or service was constantly interrupted by the children playing with toys. You are talking but most of the time you got the impression no one was listening obviously if you have a toy in your hand and children being children will be drawn to the toys”. Fr Sirju felt the practice “cheapened the feast day”.
He said Holy Innocents was a good day to talk to children about “how the Word impacts on their life” and of the suffering of children. —LPG